Friday, August 10, 2007


Archimedes is commonly regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity, yet he might have died unknown had it not been for his wife.

A common anecdote about Archimedes tells how he discovered the principle of buoyancy. According to Vitruvius, a new crown in the shape of a laurel wreath had been made for King Hieron II, king of Syracuse from 270 to 215 BC, and Archimedes was asked to determine whether it was of solid gold, or whether a dishonest goldsmith had mixed in a cheaper metal.

Archimedes had to solve the problem without damaging the crown, which meant he couldn't use the simplest approach to determine density: melting it down to measure its density as a cube.

For days and days he pondered the problem, hardly eating and not even bathing.

Finally, his wife had enough of the smelly old goat and told him to take a bath.

While getting in the tub, he noticed that the level of the water rose as he got in. He realized that this effect could be used to determine the volume of the crown and, after weighing it, therefore its density. The density of the crown would be lower if cheaper and less dense metals had been added.

Archimedes jumped out of the tub and took to the streets naked, excited as he was by his discovery that he forgot to dress, crying "Eureka!" (Greek: "εύρηκα!") "I have found it!"

Sadly but predictably, his wife's role is hardly remembered by historians, but Archimedes numbers among the vast number of men who were smart to have married.